The cost of more-reliable but expensive RT-PCR tests for detecting COVID-19 will be cut to Rs950 from the earlier Rs1,250 in private hospitals and labs across West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said during an interaction with reporters on Thursday.
Though a notification is yet to be issued, the move has been welcomed by the hospitals' association of eastern India, which has sought help in acquiring test kits at the same cost as the government does.
"This is a good move and it will help ensure more and more people get tested for COVID-19. However, if the state government can arrange for us to procure the kits and reagents at the rate at which it is acquiring - which is less than half the cost for private hospitals - it would be of great help to us," said Rupak Barua, President of the Association of Hospitals of Eastern India and chief executive officer of AMRI Hospitals.
This is the second time that the price of RT-PCR tests for private hospitals and labs has been revised in West Bengal since October.
It comes in the backdrop of many other states also slashing price to promote testing through RT-PCR, which some doctors say remains prohibitively priced.
The Supreme Court is also hearing a plea that seeks to have the cost of RT-PCR tests capped at Rs400 across India.
On Thursday, the Trinamool Congress chief also announced distribution of free tablets for 9.5 lakh students of class 12 to facilitate online learning amid the pandemic. "These tablets would be for students of 14,000 schools and 636 madrasas," she said.
Ms Banerjee also announced 3 per cent dearness allowance for state government employees starting January.
West Bengal has been experiencing a wave of coronavirus infections that started in the run up to state's all-important Durga Puja festivities. Back then, Ms Banerjee had not only reduced Covid test cost from Rs 2,250, but also capped the cost of private ambulance service amid reports of patients being charged exorbitant rates even for short distances.
The measures were taken after doctors wrote to Ms Banerjee warning of a "tsunami" of infections during Durga Puja, just like Onam in Kerala.
Since September, West Bengal has been seeing a rise in coronavirus infections and deaths with the state consistently logging 3,000-3,500 cases with a record 4,000-plus in the last week of October. Its Covid fatality rate has also remained higher than the national average of about 1.5 per cent.
West Bengal has recorded 4.9 lakh COVID-19 cases with 8,527 deaths, so far.